SAT, JAN 6th: BAND’S VISIT – Annual Theater Outing

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THE BAND’S VISIT :  This post is about the MWC’s Annual Theater Outing this coming January.  We’re trying something new this year and moving the date UP …. to Saturday, January 6th.  The last two years our dates towards the end of January have been fraught (uh, a record snowstorm and the huge post-Inauguration Women’s March …) so it seems like a good idea to avoid the latter half of the month.

The big news here – and you will need to act quickly – is that our theater impresario Meg F. was able to secure us a block of tickets (at $130 each) for THE BAND’S VISIT, already the winner of bushels of awards from it’s Off-Broadway production by The Atlantic Theater Company.  Early word is that this will be one of this season’s most difficult tickets to get and, indeed, we have to pay for them right away.  SO, IF YOU WANT TO GO TO THE MWC ANNUAL THEATER OUTING ON JANUARY 6th TO SEE THE BAND’S VISIT, please respond right away.  Meg wants to try to use VENMO for the payments for this so you will be sent an email with details as to how to do that.  For more information on the production, read below.

Eight Egyptian musicians walk into a café in the middle of the Israeli desert …. and amazing theater happens.  That’s the starting point for the coming season’s eagerly anticipated THE BAND’S VISIT, a one-act musical which made audiences swoon during its Off Broadway production.  The well-worn premise of strangers in a new place having a profound impact on the locals and themselves – think of COME FROM AWAY or Harold Hill in THE MUSIC MAN  – is used to unexpected effect here.  If you’re thinking this will be a simple, feel-good narrative about Egyptians and Israelis becoming best buddies … well, think again.  That would be too easy.  More important things happen here – along the lines of individually personal, off-kilter, and sweet yet profound.

Based on a 2007 Israeli movie that was well received critically but was a financial failure, this outing for THE BAND’S VISIT is likely to have a different result.  Starring TONY SHALHOUB (television’s idiosyncratic MONK and also a star of BARTON FINK and THE BIG NIGHT) and KATRINA LENK (most recently in INDECENT and ONCE) as, respectively, the conductor of the fictitious Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra and Dina, the owner of the establishment they amble into.  Outfitted in ridiculous, ornate baby blue uniforms, the band members find they have mistakenly ended up in the wrong place – oops, Bet Hatikva instead of the larger, more happening Petah Tikvah –  and will have to spend the night.  Of course, one fateful night.

But an uncredited character here is the music by David Yazbek.  Western audiences often find Middle Eastern music difficult to relate to.  It commonly uses quarter tone harmonies which hover between the full and half-note sounds most of our ears are more used to.  Musicals rely upon their sing-ability for their popularity but most of us Westerners don’t even know how to create a quarter tone sound or how to anticipate something other than the standard musical intervals which we tend to feel makes a song hum-able.

These sounds are not only appropriate for a musical set in Israel’s Negev desert, it also has the effect of keeping its audience a bit off-balance and feeling like strangers – very much how the band members feel as they are stuck in their unexpected outpost.  Yet Mr. Yazbek accomplishes the seemingly impossible – adjusting our ears to unfamiliar sounds while still producing a rich, Broadway tunefulness.  Add in the rich effect of Katrina Lenk’s voice (remember her singing in ONCE?) and it’s a stunning combination.

This is a very atypical musical and a great choice for the post-Holiday period when we’re all reacquainting ourselves with our intellects.  You might want to stream the movie version of THE BAND’S VISIT (available from Netflix ) – which will leave you better prepared for and able to take in the role music plays in this truly new work.

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